Latin America & Caribbean

Guatemala's Colom: Users share blame for drug violence

Consumers of illegal drugs share the blame for drug-related violence and killings, Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom has told BBC Mundo.

"We've been called a narco-state, but consumers, they are narcos too," said Mr Colom.

He was speaking a few days before Guatemalans go to the polls on Sunday to elect his successor.

Whoever wins will face the challenge of rising violence, much of which is attributed to local and Mexican gangs.

Mexican cartels have expanded operations into the Central American nation, which is an important transit point for drugs smuggled from South America to the US.

Several presidential candidates are on the ballot paper, among them retired general and front-runner Otto Perez Molina and Nobel Peace laureate Rigoberta Menchu.

But after months of wrangling, Mr Colom's former wife, Sandra Torres, will not be contesting the election.

On Monday, her supporters abandoned their final appeal against her exclusion.

It was the culmination of a political drama that began in March, when Ms Torres filed for divorce, a move critics said was to avoid a constitutional ban on close relatives of the president running for the post.

Guatemalan judges ruled that despite her divorce, Ms Torres' candidacy still violated the constitution and she was therefore ineligible.

Up and down

Lack of security is among voters' main concerns, according to recent opinion polls. Some candidates, including Mr Perez Molina, have accused President Colom of not being tough enough on organised crime.

Mr Colom, who was elected in 2007, said his term in office had seen a fall in the murder rate, while drugs worth some $10bn (£6bn) had been seized.

"Honestly, if you compare the results of this government with previous ones, there is no comparison regarding seizures and arrests," he told BBC Mundo's Ignacio de los Reyes.

Mr Colom was also clear that Guatemala alone could not tackle drug-related violence.

It was up to countries where drugs were consumed to control guns, funds and the chemicals that go towards producing drugs, to try to reduce consumption, he said.

"Cocaine goes up and guns come down," he said, referring to the trafficking of drugs through Central America and Mexico to the US, and the smuggling of illegal weapons over the US border.

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